September 2010 Archives

September 30, 2010

The Sarah Jane Adventures Returns For A Fourth Series

The Sarah Jane Adventures returns to CBBC for a fourth series on Monday 11th October. It sounds like the usual set of romps against second-hand Doctor Who monsters, although it does feature an appearance from Matt Smith as the new Doctor Who.

Although the episodes I've seen didn't grab me, it appears that it's going down a storm with kids, especially if they're waiting for the next series of Doctor Who. And I guess that was the point of it.

More details here.

September 21, 2010

Gardens Of The Sun by Paul McAuley

Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley is the sequel to The Quiet War, which I read last year. Gardens of the Sun follows on directly from the depressing aftermath of The Quiet War: Earth has asserted it's control over the outer system but some of The Outers has escaped into the darkness.

I found the style of Gardens of the Sun a lot easier to read than The Quiet War, despite it being exactly the same. For the first book I was constantly jolted by the infodumps and jumps of time, but I'd obviously settled into that style for the second book and could enjoy the actual story. And the story is pleasingly more optimistic, and in some ways more sweeping. The same characters are followed as in the first book, each plot unwinding amidst the rubble of the war and covering huge swathes of The Solar System.

There are more locations too: moons of far flung planets, journeys across Earth, depictions of the beauty and vastness of The Solar System; all rendered is wonderful and evocative detail. The sheer number of moons around the outer planets that are colonised is in itself a jolting idea of what could be possible. Suddenly it felt to me that we have plenty of room out there if we just applied our resourcefulness.

The story shows Earth trying to suppress The Outers, in increasingly desperate ways, but the pressure  just can't be sustained, and  in the end the invention and ambition of the human race triumphs. Just as I'd hoped. I suppose that the story is less climactic than the first installment but it is in no way less important, and the steady achievement of The Outers (mixed in with a quick, sharp Revolution) feels perfectly believable.

I'd recommend reading The Quiet War and Garden of the Suns in one go, as it's just one, large, sweeping story and a really interesting example of modern hard science fiction. One that, in the end, I really enjoyed.

September 20, 2010




Or maybe cute penguins instead:
Penguins Can't Fly - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

September 19, 2010

Elegy for a Young Elk by Hannu Rajaniemi

This weeks Short Story Club story is Elegy for a Young Elk by Hannu Rajaniemi who is apparently (according to Niall) this year's It Kid. Although to be honest I haven't heard of him, but then I'm a bit out of touch at the moment.

It's in many ways the old story of humans left behind after the singularity, living rough in the woods. With talking bears. And nanobots. And a firewalled city. And a quantum plague. So, plenty of ideas in there and some nice writing. The story even has an emotional edge, dealing with a family in this new world: old man left behind, wife transcended, son enveloped by the plague.

The only irritation was the plot thread about the loss of words and the struggle to write a poem, which felt a bit tired. How many stories have been written about not being able to write? 

All in all, quite nice. I didn't feel stunned by the story, it didn't feel revolutionary, but it was okay.

The discussion on Torque Control is here.

September 14, 2010

A Serpent In The Gears By Margaret Ronald

Last weeks Short Story Club story was A Serpent In The Gears By Margaret Ronald. A couple of things put me off this story initially: firstly it was published in Beneath Ceasless Skies, secondly it contains the words "serpent" and "dirigible" in the first paragraph. All of which spells out another fantasy story I probably won't like. However I read on.

It is in fact a kind of steampunk / clockworkpunk adventure. There's action and things happen and there's some characters who do stuff. For me however, all of this is overshadowed by the style which is just not my kind of thing. I just don't get the love of steampunky tropes like dirigibles and clockwork things and words like andropter. Even the characters sit in that weirdly old history setting, with valets and scientists, like it's 1900 or something. 

And unfortunately that all distracts me immensely. I just can't concentrate on the story.

Which sounds, and even feels, a bit shallow really. Are the trappings of a story really that important? Can't I transpose the story on the fly into a gonzo cyberpunk setting? Not really no. The words and language are such an integral part of stories that I, personally, can't divorce the two. Which means that stories come in many flavours, and some I just don't like the taste of.

Sorry but it's just not for me.

More discussion over at Torque Control

September 8, 2010

Space Girls T-Shirt

LES FILLES L'ESPACE - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Or girls space perhaps?

September 7, 2010

The Dervish House - Ian McDonald

If you've been reading Science Fiction in the last few years then you must be aware of Ian McDonald and his previous two novels, River Of Gods (review) and Brasyl (review). Both awesome, both didn't win the Clarke Award or a Hugo. Crime! (But the BSFA got it right.) I loved both River Of Gods and Brasyl. A lot. I've been excited by the arrival of The Dervish House. A lot. The perfect recipe for a let down, right? 

The Dervish House starts with a poetic description of Istanbul (Turkey) where the story is set. Beautiful, poetic, but a moment of hesitation on my part, no Science Fiction? Then a few pages in: nanobots! FTW! 

The novel follows the inhabitants of a Dervish House, an old house in Istanbul: an antiquities dealer and her commodity trader husband, an old Greek Professor of Economics and brief revolutionary, a recovering bad boy drug addict, a country girl trying to get a job in the city after university and a nine year old boy with a dangerous heart condition. It sounds a bit like a soap opera, or one of those dreary literary portrait books, but it's not, it's like part Dan Brown (but better), part John Grisham (but better), part Frederick Forsythe (but better) and a large dollop of nanobot action, combined in a way that Ian McDonald seems to have become the supreme master at. 

The novel has characters to love and hate and care about, it has action, it has a perfect set of intersecting plots, it has a crescendo that keeps going and kept me guessing and it has fantastic pacing. It's quite brilliant and I loved it. 

As well as all that it's got intelligence. woven throughout the novel is an interesting examination of capitalism: how we live in a capitalist society, how we try and "succeed", how we can live without following the well trodden path and how capitalism might exist alongside long standing tradition or religion. It paints a picture of Turkey and Istanbul that is in the EU and an economic powerhouse, respecting the old and the traditions, but not shackled by them, ready to break the rules in a new world. 

And of course the novel is an evocative love letter to Istanbul. You can feel the heat, become immersed in the city, lost in a foreign land. Beautiful stuff. 

And, and, and.... it's Science Fiction. At its core is the use of nanotechnology as an everyday tool, and what that could mean. It considers the next step, what the technology could evolve to (which is great idea) and how it could be misused. 

So, Ian McDonald's last three novels: River Of Gods, cyberpunk / VR in India; Brasyl, quantum computing / many worlds in Brazil; The Dervish House, nanobots in Turkey. But they're so much more than that, really wonderful books. It's as if Ian McDonald has read my mind and written novels just for me

The Dervish House deserves to be read by more that just the SF community. I don't usually care about whether SF is a ghetto, or whether we get respect, but for this book I want it to be read by the mainstream because it deserves to be read by the mainstream. It's a wonderful example of how perfectly brilliant Science Fiction can be.

September 6, 2010

Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra By Vandana Singh

The second story in The Short Story Club (2) is Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra By Vandana Singh published in Strange Horizons. It's a story of an Indian man recreated as a virtual entity on a spaceship. Probably. The narrator is a story teller, and there are stories within stories. Then the story peels back to be a dream inside a story. Or something. There's a telling line in the story:

The fact that you can't wrest meaning from everything like fruit from trees--that meaning is a matter not only of story but of what the listener brings to the tale--all that is not something she can face at the moment.

So whilst the story was different and the language quite intriguing I wasn't really interested in trying to figure out what was going on and to wrest a meaning from the stories within stories. I'm sure some people will love analysing the short stories and discovering their purpose, the allegories or the messages, but I just wasn't in the mood for it.

More discussion over at Torque Control.



A whole shiny BDO building!

September's Ansible Is Online

September 5, 2010

2010 Hugo Awards

The results are in from Down Under (Aussiecon 4) for the 2010 Hugo Awards. The winners are replicated below with some comments, the full list of nominees can be found here. Congratulations to everyone concerned.

  • Best Novel: TIE: The City & The City, China MiĆ©ville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK); The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
A tie! Well it is pretty tricky to choose between those two books. I've read both of them recently and loved them (The Windup Girl review, still haven't written up The City & The City). I haven't read the other nominated novels, but I assume this will be a popular win.

  • Best Novella: "Palimpsest", Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit)
Surprised me. It's the only one of the nominees I've read, but it wasn't that great. Okay maybe. I'd guess that I'd like the Ian McDonald story more if I ever get round to buying Cyberabad Days.
  • Best Novelette: "The Island", Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos) 
Only read the Eugie Foster story which I didn't like much. Peter Watts winning isn't too much of a surprise.
  • Best Short Story: "Bridesicle", Will McIntosh (Asimov's 1/09)
Haven't read any of them, so no comment bar the fact that two nominees were from Clarkesworld.
  • Best Related BookThis is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is "I"), Jack Vance (Subterranean)
  • Best Graphic StoryGirl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the StormWritten by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
No idea on these two either. Except maybe that there was no Scott Pilgrim for Graphic novel?
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long FormMoon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)
YAY! Moon was my favourite film last year. It's great. Good films in the category this year as well, except for Avatar.
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short FormDoctor Who: "The Waters of Mars" Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)
Really? Much preferred Epitaph 1
  • Best Editor Short Form: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Best Editor Long Form: Ellen Datlow
  • Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan
  • Best SemiprozineClarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan
  • Best Fan Writer: Frederik Pohl
  • Best FanzineStarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith
  • Best Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster

And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): Seanan McGuire

Not much to say about the others, usual suspects for editing, Clarkesworld over Locus and Ansible and Interzone, and StarShipSofa wins, which shows you what a concerted internet marketing campaign can do.

It will be interesting to see the breakdown of the voting when it's published, it always amazes me how few votes there are in total. And at least the winners are Science Fiction this time around.</troll>

September 4, 2010

The Things - Peter Watts

The Things by Peter Watts is last week's story in The Short Story Club, I'm catching up.

So when I started reading this I thought it was deliberately opaque, but interesting, some large alien thing crashed on a planet, turns out to be Earth. Antarctica. Monster. Hold on... Yes I was being slow. This is the story of the monster from The Thing. At which point I lost interest. I don't think I've ever seen The Thing. I've seen The Thing From Another World, which is really funny, but not the John Carpenter version.

So no doubt it's clever, and great if you're a The Thing geek, but I was a bit bored. Monster, yes, shape shift, yes, humans going crazy, yes. Endless Monster introspection. Yes.

The film's probably better.

I should also point out, though it is entirely obvious, that I have never read the John W. Campbell novella upon which the films are based.

September 3, 2010

2010 Doctor Who Proms To Be Shown On BBC3

From the Doctor Who site :

A one-hour version of the 2010 Doctor Who Proms will be broadcast on BBC Three on Monday, 6 September. And from that date viewers will be able to watch Backstage at the Doctor Who Prom, a must-see programme available through the BBC's Red Button service.
I've heard from someone who was there that it was a great show, so should be worth watching it on TV. .

September 1, 2010

The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl is Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel although he has published some critically acclaimed stories including the collection Pump Six and Other Stories.

The Windup Girl is set in a future Thailand. A future post oil, post climate change, with genetically modified food and corporations waging war to protect their intellectual property. The setting is dense and evocative, you can feel the heat and humidity and the layers upon layers of ideas make the world feel realistically complicated. Instead of oil calories are the currency, unless you're wealthy and can burn coal, there are ingenious uses of hand and leg power in the story.

The Windup Girl of the title is a genetically modified woman, created in Japan as a kind of Geisha but abandoned in Bangkok, where she falls into the sex trade. She hears of a place where Windups can be free and dreams of escaping the city, made difficult by the fact that she is unlicenced. The sexual scenes involving the Windup Girl are very explicit, maybe you could argue unnecessary? But it leaves you in no doubt as to the plight of the woman, as to the depths we might sink against something we see as inferior and inhuman. It's a stark warning. And it means that when the Windup Girl eventually discovers some of her true abilities I was so firmly on her side that I was wishing carnage to ensue on her behalf.

Meanwhile other plots involve: politics between trade and eco organisations/factions in the government, the GM food corporations fight to expose Thailand's secret seedstock, an outbreak of a deadly virus, the plight of a refugee in the city and an (evil?) enemy gene wizard captured and working for Thailand. Like the world, the plots are intertwined and not laid out in a straight line, they weave and meander sometimes, but come together climatically.

I have a couple of criticisms. Firstly the argument for GM foods is very one-sided and presented as undoubtedly a bad thing. The only discussion of the benefits of GM is provided in a conversation with the "evil" gene wizard, so the reader is left in no doubt as to which side they should be backing. Personally I'm more optimistic about GM food so the lack of balance grated on me. Secondly the pacing of the first half of the book was a bit slow, whilst I enjoyed the world and the language I still wanted it to move a bit faster. But in general the novel is intelligent, thought provoking and full of great Science Fictional ideas.

The cover of the novel has a quote from Lev Grossman saying that he wishes Paolo would write ten sequels. Personally I don't. It's a great book, a really great book, leave it, I want to see what else he can produce, because I'm pretty sure there could be ten more original exciting novels.

One of this year's (last year's?) definitive Science Fiction novels.

The First Rule Of Short Story Club (2) Is You Have To Read The Stories

Autumn is here. Summer is a fading memory. It must be Short Story Club time. Niall is organising the seconding out of the event, the first one I enjoyed immensely. I'm already one behind but I will try and catch up. Post your opinions on your blog or/and go to Torque Control to leave a comment. The full list of stories below. First impressions from the title (! Always judge a story by its title etc.) not enough nanobots and spaceships and too many animals. Perhaps the Elk is a cyborg? Should be fun.

  • "The Things" by Peter Watts [discussion]
  • "Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra" by Vandana Singh [5 September]
  • "A Serpent in the Gears" by Margaret Ronald [12 September]
  • "Elegy for a Young Elk" by Hannu Rajaniemi [19 September]
  • "Second Journey of the Magus" by Ian R MacLeod [26 September]
  • "The Red Bride" by Samantha Henderson [5 October]
  • "Miguel and the Viatura" by Eric Gregory [12 October]
  • "No Time Like the Present" by Carol Emshwiller [19 October]
  • "The Cage" by AM Dellamonica [26 October]
  • "My Father's Singularity" by Brenda Cooper [3 November]
  • "The Heart of a Mouse" by KJ Bishop [10 November]
  • "Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory" by Paul M Berger [17 November]
  • "Throwing Stones" by Mishell Baker [24 November]